Upside of a recession

Don’t let naysayers complain about the slump!

Greg Lucas is a longtime journalist and SN&R’s food critic

Why such negative press for the recession?

Except for the 15.4 million Americans unemployed—up from 7.5 million two years ago—and the 7.1 million properties foreclosed since January 2008, the recession has done a ton of positive stuff.

The recession is good for the environment. It must be, because the California Air Resources Board said so at a seven-hour hearing on diesel emissions standards in early December.

Air quality has improved because of the recession, the board acknowledged, echoing what the construction industry has been trying to impress upon them for more than 12 months—a stagnant housing market sharply reduces the noxious fumes being belched into the atmosphere by cement mixers, heavy trucks and earth-moving equipment.

The recession’s air-quality benefits extend beyond the housing industry. The closure of several major retailers, among them Mervyn’s and Linens ’n Things, as well as numerous smaller businesses, reduces carbon-dioxide emissions. What right-thinking Californian would drive their car to gawk at vacant commercial space?

Empty, darkened retail space also reduces energy consumption and costs.

The recession has also been a boon for natural resources. If no houses are built, the land stays dirt and grass, nurturing a vast, circle-of-life ecosystem in which flora and fauna thrive.

Here’s an air-quality-habitat conservation two-fer: Demand is now reduced for a slew of products whose creation harms the environment. Consider this: If fewer houses are being built, there’s less need for wood framing. Ergo, fewer trees are felled and continue to proudly stand, sequestering carbon dioxide. Where’s the banner headline?

A collateral climate-change boon results because the fewer new homes, the fewer concrete pads. Cement makers are way high on the carbon-dioxide spew list.

Consider the recession’s positive economic impact.

Caltrans reports it enjoys seven or eight bids for each highway project it advertises. This higher level of competition has led to lower bids. The agency reported in July that it was receiving bids averaging 33 percent less than their cost estimates.

Logic suggests other state contracts—paper, produce, parking spaces—would enjoy similar cost savings upon rebidding. Additionally, a battered commercial real-estate market means the state—and other public entities who lease private office space—hold the whip hand at lease renewal time.

Private-sector employers also benefit from the recession. Those few who are expanding and hiring new employees enjoy an embarrassment of riches.

A posting for an entry-level executive assistant, office manager or clerk can easily generate 200 or more résumés, usually in the first 24 hours. Within such an expansive universe of talent, employers have a far better chance of finding an eager, overqualified individual willing to work at lower cost.

So when the naysayers prattle about the recession’s horrors, recognize they are simply looking through the wrong end of the telescope.